Chappell warns against taking West Indies lightly
The Caribbean side, swept 2-0 in the just-concluded Test series against Sri Lanka, are also expected to be no match for the greater experience of the hosts and the Indians, who, as usual, are under enormous pressure from fans and media to perform in their first outing under the guidance of Chappell. The tournament gets underway tomorrow with Sri Lanka taking on India, after which the West Indies enter the fray the next day against the Indian squad being led by Rahul Dravid.
The first four matches in the preliminary phase are being played at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium, custom-built venue located just outside the town of Dambulla in one of the driest regions of the island. The last two preliminary fixtures and the final are scheduled for the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. All seven matches are day/night encounters.
"Anyone at this level is a good cricketer," Chappell insisted following his team's workout in scorching morning sunshine in the nets adjacent to the match venue yesterday. "I've been in teams that have on a few occasions taken opponents lightly and paid the price. We can't afford to take anyone lightly."
Allrounder Ricardo Powell has been the only addition to the West Indies from the Test series, but even with his wealth of limited-over experience going back to the 1999 World Cup, the Caribbean side will be hard-pressed to get the better of the opposition in any of their four preliminary fixtures.
"I'm concerned with us doing the basic things well," Chappell emphasised when asked to compare the strengths and weaknesses of the other two teams. "If there are teams we should beat, we have to go out there and beat them well."
The former Australian captain and elegant middle-order batsman is in his first assignment since succeeding former New Zealand opening batsman John Wright as the Indian coach. Chappell was among the early favourites to succeed Gus Logie as West Indies coach last year, but opted out of the running as the West Indies Cricket Board was apparently not prepared to entertain his holistic programme.
His compatriot, Bennett King got the job, but has faced a series of challenges in trying to get the best out of his Caribbean side, not least the labour dispute between the players and administration that has ruined any hopes of developing a consistent, cohesive team.
"It's very much the same as with everywhere else," said Chappell in offering an opinion on the WICB opting for a foreign coach to try and turn the team's fortunes around on the field in the short term. "You may get mixed results (looking for short-term success). It really is about getting a whole range of processes in place."
With the unique distinction of scoring a hundred on Test debut (against England in 1970-71) and hundreds in both innings of his first Test as captain (against West Indies in 1975-76), Chappell will be hoping to get his international career off to a similarly spectacular start to add more celebration to his 57th birthday on Sunday.
Sri Lanka are expected to be more than a handful on their home turf, even without the injured Chaminda Vaas in their line-up. A real student of the game, Vaas' success with his left-arm seamers against the West Indies top order during the Tests will not have gone unnoticed by the Indian coach.
Chappell will have at his disposal not one, but three left-arm medium-fast bowlers in Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra and Irfan Pathan -all quicker than Vaas-to complement the spin and guile of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
The absence through injury of Sachin Tendulkar and the unavailability due to suspension of regular captain Sourav Ganguly may be felt somewhat against the Sri Lankans, who have their own array of batsmen capable of piling up massive totals in limited-over cricket.
But given the obvious limitations of the West Indies attack, they are expected to struggle to contain a line-up spearheaded by the remorseless Dravid, and including the likes of Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif and new wicketkeeper/batting sensation Mahendra Dhoni.
Despite losing the Tests in Colombo and Kandy by wide margins inside four days, the West Indies surprised all with the excellence of their fielding and the determined discipline in much of their bowling.
Yet even if they maintain or improve the standards in those two areas, the absence of real class and experience in the batting order, with the notable exception of skipper Shivnarine Chanderpaul, will see them struggling to be a factor in the tournament unless complacency infects their opponents.